Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chandon de Briailles, Where the Old is New

At Vineyard Gate we've been selling the Burgundies of Domaine Chandon de Briailles almost from the time we opened for business in 1998. Their Burgundies, both red and white, are the kind I love most: light, elegant, without the taste of oak, classic and firm, usually partially destemmed. It also helps a lot that prices have always been modest.

The domaine's parcels are usually in the best sites of the appellations and planted with old vines. Perhaps the flagship is the premier cru Pernand-Vergelesses Ile des Vergelesses, for which the domaine is best known for as it owns the lion's share of the vineyard. But there was also the previous parcel rented in Corton-Charlemagne situated near the crest of the hill just above that of Coch-Dury's in the "lieu Charlemagne" section.

Changes have been afoot at the domaine since the hiring of the young Aussie cellar master, Christian Knott, in 2009. I met him at a wine bar in Beaune last September and told him how much I admire the 2010 range. There was a depth, purity, and aromatics to the wines that I've not found before. Previous vintages tend to have a rustic touch. Above all the Savigny-Lavieres was the best I've ever had. He smiled satisfyingly, somewhat vindicated for changes he championed at the domaine to which both brother and sister proprietors, Francois and Claude de Nicolay, were in accord. We hit it off and the topic turned to food. I told him I probably had my best ever dinner in Paris at Bones, where there happens to be an Aussie chef in charge. It turns out he was also there for dinner the following night.

A few days later my friends and I took up Christian's invitation to taste at the domaine in Savigny les Beaune. We tasted from barrel mainly 2012s: Savigny-Lavieres, Pernand Les Vergelesses Ile de Verglesses rouge, Corton-Marechaude, Corton-Bressandes, Corton Clos du Roi, Pernand Ile de Vergelesses blanc, and Corton blanc. I can tell you that the streak he helped drive since the 2010 vintage continues. This is a venerable domaine that has found a way to take its wines to an even higher level.

Christian explained that sulphites have been reduced to a bare minimum and nothing is added before fermentation has started. They are more careful not to over-extract to keep the wines elegant. Exposure to air during vinification and cellaring is also avoided as much as possible to reduce the need for SO2, while this has also resulted in a more intense perfume.

Christian also engages in some extra-curricular activities in the domaine, as there is a sort of "skunk works" going on  there with some interesting wines that would probably not leave the domaine. Like a barrel of Pinot Blanc with 8 days skin contact and without addition of sulphites. It was terrific! I'll have to ask Christian to save me a bottle.

Meanwhile, I await excitedly the arrival of their 2011s. Let the wine press drum up attention now on 2012 Burgundies (obviously to hype up their newsletter subscriptions). The 2011s are very good and promising, and more modestly priced. Domaine Chandon de Briailles' wines also have new labels.

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